(of 20 things she left behind, and 20 people that remembered)
1. velvet key
When his sister asks why he does not take off his gloves anymore, he is silent, for a beat.
"Of course, it's merely a foolish notion to consider that you do so for sentimental reasons," says his sister. "But more intelligent men have perished for much less."
He recognizes the affront; it is an ancient as the staccato rhythm of his eternal heart. "She was charming, in her own way."
"Are you projecting?" His sister says, deadpan, but he does not hear her. Instead his eyes, golden, appear distant as he raises his fingers to the air.
"I asked for her hand," says the young man, wistful, "for the last time."
2. cheap lighter
Odagiri Hidetoshi has two kids now; he names one after his first love, and his wife does not ask. Some things are best left unexplained for domestic peace, and some regrets too great to be left forgotten.
3. persimmon fruit
Three graves to visit, now, writes the old man in his eightieth year. I have outlived my wife and two children, one by blood and one a kindred spirit, and there is no one to leave the shop to anymore. Before I die, I would like to see the school, once more, and retrace the steps they'd taken, then, when I was not able to follow.
4. a cellphone strap
Transcript of an interview with Takeba Yukari [TY] for a magazine article:
TY: There wasn't much I could give to my best friend; I'd given her this [see enclosed picture] because it was important to me, then, the same way matching rings and trading slices of cake at Christmas were important.
I: Do you still see her?
TY: [10 second pause] No. No, I don't.
In a blog post by a student from Gekkoukan high:
My cousin's a real tech whiz. The other day I asked her to fix my headphones and she gave me these neat red ones -- you'd really feel the bass pounding in your ears! She told me she made it for an old friend, and I thought I'd gotten something good out of her because, hello? Doesn't that mean boyfriend? But she said it was for a girl and you know that's really boring so I...
6. motorcycle key
The motorcycle is in the garage. Kirijo Mitsuru doesn't take it out anymore, not since high school. There's always a driver ready at hand, and there's paperwork to look at, hundreds of papers she has to go through before that 8 AM meeting with the board and she's always busy, so busy, she feels like she's trapped.
She'd tasted freedom, once; freedom, and the fleeting bitterness that came afterwards.
7. charred screw
"There's this really hot blonde chick that hangs out at the rooftop all the time. Dude, I totally tried talking to her but she shot me down."
"What? Why are you looking so freaked out?"
"Haven't you heard the story of the blonde ghost at the rooftop? They say she likes to stalk brunettes, and when they don't turn out to be the person she's looking for, she shoots them in the head. With machine guns. From her arms."
"S-seriously? No way! Shut up, that's not cool at all, man."
8. bead ring
Oohashi Maiko writes, in her diary:
I have a little sister now. I've always wondered what it would be like, to be a big sister, and I'm scared I won't be as good at it as Minako-neechan was. Dad told me Minako-neechan was still in a far away place so I couldn't see her, but someday, when I grow up a little, I'll take the first train to Iwatodai and I'll give her a bracelet and we'll get takoyaki and Mad Bull and play on the sandbox, just the two of us...
9. money pouch
"There is nothing waiting for you but a grave, Andre," his uncle says, severe, but still kind, but he goes back, anyway, if only to pay his respects.
There are no words, this time; no paper to blot the ink, but the tears still come, slow, and sparse.
10. thank-you letter
Excerpt from his biography:
"I made a profit out of a high school girl once," Tanaka-san chortles. "None of that scandalous stuff, of course -- I was her mentor in the ways of the business world. She was too naive, but she liked to hear me talk, anyway. I suppose it comes with my natural charm. But anyway, that isn't important; don't you wan't to hear about that time I...?"
His attempts at distraction are futile; he turns away, and I catch a brief view of his expression, crumpled and bone-tired.
11. reserve tag
Excerpt, from the son's personal notes:
In the last years of his life, my father often visited a young woman's grave. It caused temporary grief to my mother, and I confess that I still harbored some resentment, but...
I wondered, what she was like. How incredible she must have been, to have given him cause to change.
12. worn notebook
The plane to Germany is delayed; the Japanese tourist spends the time helping a young mother pacify her son ("Please, darling, stop bouncing on the seats before the big, scary policeman takes you away."), distracting him with promises of sweets and stories.
When the boy is asleep, curled up against his mother's shoulder, she tells her about her son, long dead, but happy in the last stretch of his life.
"He met a girl, you know, " she says, as if that explains everything, and really, it does.
"She must have been kind," says her companion.
"Yes," says the tourist, "yes, she was."
13. dirty collar
"Koro-chan was kind of like Hachiko," says Yamagishi Fuuka, when asked by the neighborhood gossipmongers about the old priest's dog. "He always knew when, exactly, someone had died, but I think he never gave his collar to anyone else, not even to any of us."
She fiddles with the sleeve of her shirt, a nervous habit she has yet to break. "I think he never got tired of waiting."
14. PA recording
If anyone asks why she ever considers taking up broadcasting communications, she simply says, "A friend inspired me."
"Inspired you to do what?" Her classmate asks.
The skin around her eyes crinkle, slightly, the way it always does when she smiles. "To have a voice," she says, like she believes it wholeheartedly.
15. annotated guide
The day they receive the news, the entire team is in shock. Eventually, one of them starts crying, and it's like a dam breaks.
Rio cancels practice the next meeting. And the next. And the next.
She spends her free time writing down notes. Things she'd wanted to say or do before that she'd thought she had all the time in the world for. Even Kenji looks concerned, and Rio knows she looks pretty bad by then.
"You've been like this for weeks," says Kenji, ruffling the top of her head. "Come on, we can go out and play volleyball with Kaz and Yuko."
She thinks of Minako, young and golden and eternal. Thinks of how she'd been so happy.
"Yeah," she says, setting her notebook down. "Let's play."
16. silver key
They buy an apartment after three years of steady dating.
"You've had plenty of practice living with girls anyway," his girlfriend teases. In the dim yellow light of the hallway, her hair shines red and brown alternately. He is struck, suddenly, with a dizzying memory.
("I had a crush on a girl who looked like you, once," he'd confessed on their first date, and she'd looked strangely gratified.)
"I'll make sure I stay out of your way during one of those days, then," he says.
"Ugh," she answers, fishing around her pockets for the key. "Boys."
She takes out a silver key; it looks almost like his old house key. "Can't we get this in gold?" He complains.
"What is it with you and silver keys anyway?" His girlfriend asks, laughing.
"Bad memories," he says, then amends, after a pause, "but I'd never want to forget them."
17. leather watch
"Daddy," says his daughter, "daddy, daddy, daddy."
She tugs on the hem of his apron. He looks down at her pouting face, and raises an eyebrow.
"What is it?" He says, gruffly.
"Your watch," says Miki, "I think it's broken."
He sets the chopping knife down on the counter. "Did you mess with it again?"
"Nooooo," says Miki, shifting guiltily. "I just picked it up and then it stopped moving and now I can't fix it anymore. I can't kiss it better."
He holds out his hand. She pulls the watch out of her pockets, placing it on his palm delicately. He lifts it in the air, making a grand show of inspecting it. She fusses at her fingers, unsure of what to do with the traitorous things.
"It needs new batteries," he says, and she smiles, her dimples showing.
"Not my fault," she says, triumphant.
18. pig key holder
Yukari still calls him, sometimes, when she isn't busy with work.
"How's life as a corporate slave?" Yukari says.
"How's life being a professional mannequin?" He snipes back.
"I take pride in my work as a model," says Yukari, laughing. "Especially when I can surround myself with young, attractive rock stars."
He takes out his car keys; the tiny pig grins at him, mocking. "Are you swinging by next Saturday?"
"Yeah," says Yukari. He can hear some hesitance in her tone, like she wants to say something but can't bring herself to voice it aloud. The moment passes, too frail, too fleeting. "Say hi to Chidori for me, okay?"
"Sure," he says, and hangs up.
19. rabbit doll
He was the one who ended up packing her belongings.
Once, he thought she'd had so many things scattered around her bedspread, or kicked under the bed in a scant effort at cleanliness, but they fit in a single box, all of her trinkets and her books and her clothes, every single one of them.
Or, perhaps, they had all stolen some parts of her life, before this act of closure. He'd seen Shinji with the watch on his wrist, once, when Shinji thought he wasn't looking. Junpei, too, had had a brief battle of indecision before taking the key holder from her desk. They'd live their whole lives carrying her in their hearts, burdened by the responsibility.
"Starting now, huh?" He said, rubbing his thumb across the rabbit's faux fur. "Looks like it's just you and me again."
(He gives the doll to Shinji's daughter, ten years later. It would have its use, this way, and he hopes it's enough to give her some happiness.)
20. faint glow ring
When she wakes up, she feels for the ring on her finger. Tightens her fingers into a fist when she realizes she isn't tired anymore, because that only means one thing.
Ryoji is there, watching, waiting. She holds out her hand, and says, "I'm--"
"Minako-chan," says Ryoji, touching the base of her palm -- her wrist, white, and trembling, "you're real."